We went south for Peter’s funeral. Lucky to find a train given the growing chaos on Scotrail. which has just substantially reduced train numbers because of the shortage of drivers and threatened industrial action. We stayed with Jem and Anna in Watlington, the first time that we have seen them since they moved into their brand new house
Watlington is an attractive market town, a bit south of the M40, close to the Chilterns and to the Oxfordshire-Buckinghamshire border. It is often said to be the smallest town in England. But the historical records go back to the 8th century, and the town features as Watelintone in the Domesday Book of 1086. It was once distinguished for a large number of inns, owned by a local brewing family; but in the 19th century a wealthy Methodist bought six of them and promptly closed them down. In their place there is a flourishing artisan bakery and a well-stocked delicatessen and cafe. Watlington is also the red kite centre of southern England. A small group of Swedish and Welsh kites were introduced in 1989, and there are now said to be over 150 breeding pairs.
From Watlington there is easy access to the Ridgeway, an ancient track, part of the longer Icknield Way. The Ridgeway, which is sometimes described as Britain’s oldest road, runs for 100 or more miles across the chalk uplands of Wiltshire, Oxfordshire, and Buckinghamshire. On the Friday I walked down the Ridgeway to St Botolph’s church at Swynbrooke, a 1000-year-old church connected to St Botolph, a 7th century Benedictine monk and missionary. The church building dates from the late 11th century, but was extensively restored in the 19th century. The stained glass windows show links to the Benedictine abbey at Bec in Normandy. I met two cyclists in the churchyard, but otherwise the church showed little sign of visitors.
On the Saturday I walked, again partly on the Ridgeway, to Ewelme, to meet up with the family for lunch [excellent] at The Shepherd and Hut. It was a very hot day [it seems to be generally warmer down south], and we had to move from the garden to a table inside.
Disgracefully I had got lost when my footpath disappeared close to Ewelme, and I ended up walking in a circle on field edges and had to hitch a lift from a passing farmer in a battered Land Rover. I re-met the farmer, Mr Mearns, the following day, when we went to an evening Rogation service in the adjacent village of Britwell Salome. The service was held in his large barn behind the farm shop. About 70 people sat on hay bales, facing an array of tractors, and were joined by a cow and calf, a noisy cockerel and clutch of hens, an enclosure of piglets, another enclosure of young lambs, and another of adult sheep. This is Vicar of Dibley country, and the service might well have featured in that series. I thought it was great; earthed, engaging, and quite short. And followed by excellent sausages and home-made cup cakes. All of which would encourage Oskar to go to church on a regular basis.
Jem drove us up to Sun Rising burial ground, between Banbury and Stratford, on the Monday. It was a dry, clear morning for Peter’s funeral. About 30 of us stood around the grave for the [humanist by choice] interment, but with a reading from Ecclesiasticus and a prayer of John Henry Newman. The pall-bearers were dressed in pink and lime green, mates from recent golf tours abroad. .And a lark sang overhead. Afterwards there were about 150 people at Compton Verney arts centre for a buffet lunch and ‘Celebration’. Dave, the humanist celebrant and MC, spoke well in his Eulogy, and other poems and memories followed. It was a colourful occasion with a lot of laughter.
Susie and I trained back to Edinburgh after a couple of days in my other brother’s very comfortable house in Birmingham. When we got home we watched a programme on the tele about two people who had no known family or living relatives; one a woman in her late 70s who is the daughter of an unknown GI; the other a Jewish man of a similar age who had survived an early childhood in a Nazi concentration camp. The programme took DNA samples from them, and was able to introduce both the people to cousins and family whom they never knew existed. We are fortunate to be part of a loving family network. Which is too easy to take for granted. And we are going away with the children and grand-children again next week, on a twice-postponed family holiday in Normandy. Of which more anon.